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April 14, 2016: Appreciating Nature; and making better communities.

April 14, 2016: Appreciating Nature;
And making better communities.

By Elliot Rodger, WBCA.

Too often we city-dwellers fail to appreciate the nature around us – except perhaps for the recalcitrant raccoon in the attic, the elusive mouse in the basement, or the pesky crow that raids our garbage.

Yet nature is there in abundance if we look. The Westboro Beach Community Association (WBCA) believes that, through understanding and awareness, our residents can gain an appreciation of nature in our community, and more effectively support various species, in particular through habitat protection.

There are important reasons why this matters: the need to support nature for its own sake given the huge impact urbanization has on nature, and the tangible and intangible benefits that nature provides us.  These human benefits are well captured in the concept of “nature-hood” and the well-being we feel when we are out in nature even just sitting in our backyards or strolling along the Ottawa River.

WBCA undertakes a variety of environmental initiatives including a lecture series, monitoring our bur oak trees, providing homes for bats, hosting an annual spring bird walk, and holding an annual spring tree and shrub sale.

In our lecture series, we learned about the increasingly disturbing impact of global and local climate change. This includes more extreme weather events in Ottawa, an increasing vulnerability of trees to insects such as the emerald ash borer, and increasing numbers of ticks.

We learned how to reduce our individual carbon footprints which underlie climate change.  In other lectures we learned about bats and how they are seriously threatened, and we learned about what a great place for birds and birding we have on our own Ottawa River waterfront.

The Lac Deschênes Important Bird Area, extending from Lac Deschênes to the Chaudière Rapids and taking in both sides of the Ottawa River, is globally recognized for its importance to bird migration for multiple species.

The Ottawa area itself is known to have approximately 350 species of birds, a number which may be increasing due to the arrival of species unique to the region perhaps due to climate change – or in the case of the many cardinals, perhaps a result of the number of backyard bird feeders.

WBCA’s annual spring bird-walks, led by our own birding experts, often see unique species along the wooded areas adjacent to the Ottawa River.  On the other hand we may not realize that a number of bird species are no longer seen in the area due to habitat loss, climate change, declining insect populations, and in the case of chimney swifts, the use of metal chimneys as opposed to masonry chimneys.

Species that are no longer common include the red-headed woodpecker, the upland sandpiper, the eastern meadowlark, the whip-poor-will, the bobolink, and the the Henslow sparrow – among others.

Bats, our other flying friends, are threatened throughout North America; millions have been lost already through white-nose syndrome and habitat loss. Bats are often misunderstood and unappreciated, being the subject of a number of unhelpful myths. Many people do not realize the benefits these furry mammals provide through eating insects (think mosquitoes), pollination, and seed dispersal.

Recently, with the support of Nature Canada, WBCA has initiated a bat conservation project. Nature Canada has provided three roosting boxes and much knowledge about bats to WBCA. We are establishing a bat brigade to install and monitor the bat boxes and contribute occupancy information to a national database. The bat conservation project will also have an interpretative component to engender greater bat awareness by our younger residents.

Our community is fortunate to have a number of bur oak trees including some over a meter in diameter and estimated to be 150 years old. Traditionally a food source for native people, these majestic hardwoods are now highly valued for their beauty, for oxygenating the air, and cleansing pollution, as habitat for wildlife, and for the shade they provide. The associated economic value of such trees is surprisingly high.

WBCA has inventoried our bur oaks, monitors their vulnerability to destruction through inappropriate development, and participates in the citizen-initiated Champlain Oaks Project ( see http://champlainoaks.com ).

These environmental activities are founded on WBCA’s belief that supporting nature makes better communities for us all while preserving nature for its own sake. And these activities are a heck of a lot more fun than battling unsuitable urban development yet again in our community.

For further information on WBCA activities current tree and shrub sale please see http://www.westborobeach.ca . For information on naturehood and what you can do to support Ottawa’s wildlife see Nature Canada’s website http://www.naturecanada.ca .

Fast Feed Corner

Photo Caption: With Niger seed to attract smaller birds, left, a suet block lures a normally shy downy woodpecker, while a seed bell and squirrel proof feeder, right, tempt others of the approximately 350 bird species found in the Ottawa area. Photo by T. Hairbach.

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